When it comes to Saskatchewan’s history of serial killers, the name of John Crawford may not be one that immediately comes to mind.
Crawford was responsible for the deaths of four Indigenous women, spanning from 1985 to 1995. He was convicted of three murders in the Saskatoon area in 1996 but previously had been convicted of manslaughter more than 10 years earlier in Lethbridge.
Crawford was serving a life sentence at the Saskatoon Regional Psychiatric Centre. According to a media release from Correctional Service Canada, he died Wednesday in custody.
His next of kin have been notified and the cause of his death is currently under review.
Journalist and author Warren Goulding published a book entitled Just Another Indian, A Serial Killer and Canada’s Indifference in 2001. The book is centred around Crawford’s three killings, and why the media didn’t correctly cover the story due to a lack of general interest at that time.
All three women were Indigenous, and Goulding’s book focuses on that key fact.
“My thoughts today are (with) the families of the victims,” Goulding said Thursday. “The families are still hurting. The people I’ve spoken to today, the memories are still fresh.”
The three women that Crawford was convicted of killing were: Shelley Napope, who was 16 at the time; Eva Taysup, who was 30; and Calinda Waterhen, who was 22.
Goulding said he received a text from a family member of Napope on Wednesday, delivering the news of Crawford’s death.
“My first thought was maybe a selfish one,” he said. “I had always harboured this hope that I would be able to do a face-to-face interview … As an old journalist, you still want to ask some of those questions.”
As for the media attention on the story, Goulding explained some of the complexities within the story.
“Given the fact that he wasn’t exactly a household name 25 years ago … maybe there’s something positive about that. Maybe things have changed to the point that at least we’re talking about some of these issues,” he explained.
“We’ve learned a lot about how we cover crime and other stories involving Indigenous people. Even the language has changed.”
He said terms such as “Indian” or “native” were more frequent at the time of the killings.
“We’re doing a better job of talking to families and having some understanding of what they’re going through,” he said.
“The media was quick to lump these girls into a category; that was, they were believed to be working in the sex trade. We’d focus on their issues, their problems, and that wasn’t fair.”
He said in his book, he introduced the girls as who they were — women with dreams and families that loved them.
Goulding said Crawford was the typical serial killer. Goulding made attempts to contact Crawford and his family, but one thing that separated Crawford from other serial killers was the fact that he wasn’t seeking publicity.
“He was just without emotion. (He would) barely communicate. I have this image of him in court, a big guy, (and) he didn’t react to anything. He didn’t move,” Goulding explained.
“What a horrible human being he was. It’s scary that there are these kinds of people in our presence … I don’t know if there was a good side to this man, at all.”
Crawford began his life sentence for first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder on May 30, 1996.